PsychNology Journal, 2012                                                                             Volume 10, Number 3,...
T.S. Castro, A.Osórioand weight gain. These eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) are risky anddangerous behaviours that...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web    Firstly, it is important to c...
T.S. Castro, A.Osório2007; Dias, 2003; Williams, 2009), a safe environment where users can express theirfeelings (Wold et ...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webenvironments. The interconnected ...
T.S. Castro, A.Osóriowhere they i) feel safe to write about their physical insecurities, dreams and goals; ii)meet like-mi...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web    For each blog we made notes a...
T.S. Castro, A.Osóriothe interest in becoming familiar with the phenomenon is purely scientific; the requestwould be made ...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web3. Results 3.1 Common features an...
T.S. Castro, A.Osório       Examples of contents found in      the Portuguese written Weblogs                             ...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webMisunderstandingSufferingLoneline...
T.S. Castro, A.Osório     3.3. Cutting, Self-punishment practices and death wish     Issues like cutting, self-punishment ...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web     "I know that Ana is not a to...
T.S. Castro, A.Osório Going through the blogs, some incidents can point us possible causes that may havetriggered these be...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webavailable risky contents - “I sta...
T.S. Castro, A.Osóriosample is small and mostly female. Additionally, for generalisability purposes, furtherstudy is neede...
Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webDerenne, J. L., & Beresin, E. V. ...
T.S. Castro, A.OsórioOverbeke, G. (2008). Pro-Anorexia Websites: Content, Impact, and Explanations of      Popularity. Min...
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  1. 1. PsychNology Journal, 2012 Volume 10, Number 3, 169 – 186 Online violence: Not beautiful enough… not thin enough. Anorectic testimonials in the web ∗1 Teresa Sofia Castro and António Osório1 1 University of Minho (Portugal) ABSTRACT Pro-anorexia is a social and harmful movement on the Web. These Websites are popular among youth who wish to be thinner, because they represent neutral and free judgemental spaces, where one can find support, express their feelings and thoughts around the disturbing anorexic lifestyle. Considering this, during the literature review concerning risky and easily available contents on the Internet, the need arose for an in depth study of pro- anorexia websites, once they appeal to extremely dangerous behaviours and beauty 1 standards that can endanger children’s well-being. This qualitative exploratory content analysis examined Portuguese speaking blogs written by adolescents (boys and girls) between 13 and 19 years old, who use the Web in order to meet like-minded peers, with whom they share diets, tips, tricks, thinspiration material, and dangerous and harmful information about fasting, drugs, self-harm or suicide. The pro- anorexia Weblogs work as a stimulus for starvation and weight loss among youth who share pro-anorexic goals. Although data cannot be generalized, evidence suggests that these blogs can have undesired and negative effects in young children because they contribute to: i) the increasing of risky contents on the Web; ii) the encouragement of disruptive eating behaviours; iii) the maintenance of a already existing eating disordered behaviour; iv) children’s alienation from offline social ties; v) the growth of these communities among young children. With this article we aim to raise awareness about this problem and its impact among children. Nevertheless, further research is needed and should extend to more Portuguese children and male bloggers. Keywords: pro-anorexia, anorexia, eating disorders, thinspiration, children, teenagers, Internet, blog, family Paper Received 19/09/2012; received in revised form 31/12/2012; accepted 31/12/2012.1. Introduction Generally speaking, anorexia and bulimia result from obsessive concerns aboutweight and body image that in turn lead into dangerous yo-yo diets of starving to deathfollowed by binge eating habits that result in harmful cyclical routines of weight lossCite as:Castro, T., & Osório, A. (2012). Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectictestimonials in the web. PsychNology Journal, 10(3), 169 – 186. Retrieved [month] [day], [year], fromwww.psychnology.org.* Corresponding Author:Teresa Sofia Pereira Dias de CastroUniversity of Minho (Institute of Education), Campus de Gualtar – 4710 Braga (Portugal),teresa.sofia.castro@gmail.com1 As it is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 169
  2. 2. T.S. Castro, A.Osórioand weight gain. These eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) are risky anddangerous behaviours that can result in serious psychiatric problems, such asdepression, anxiety, cutting, suicidal behaviour and/or drug (ab)use, if not identifiedand treated in time. Synthetizing, anorexia nervosa is a dangerous disease because i)it is debilitating (Bulik, Reba, Siega-Riz, & Reichborn-Kjennerud, 2005); ii) difficult totreat and iii) “it has the highest mortality rate of all the psychiatric illnesses” (Gremillion,2003, p. 3); iv) it has biological, psychological and social consequences (Bulik et al.,2005). “Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eatingfollowed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting;misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise”(APA, 1994). Eating Disorders (ED) are no longer considered a white, young and upper classwomen’s disease. Experts believe that ED have a multifactorial origin (Derenne &Beresin, 2006). Based on their research and the data supported by other authors,Williams2 (2009) and Derenne & Beresin3 (2006) state that findings suggest that notonly cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are increasing, but they are alsospreading to other fringes of society such as: i) men, ii) increasingly younger children(eight, nine years old), iii) lower classes, iv) older women, v) other ethnicities andraces. More recently, the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)in daily life allowed young consumers to easily and freely access to potentiallydisruptive, threatening and harmful contents on the Internet. In fact, “the range ofcontent that is of potential concern is vast, including pornography, racist material,violent and gruesome content, self-harm sites (including pro-anorexia and pro-suicidesites) commercially exploitative material and more” (Wold, Aristodemou, Dunkels, &Laouris, 2009, p. 135). Not only it is easier to find contents, but also thedemocratization of ICT among youth, in particular the Internet, has contributed for themass consumption, production, dissemination and proliferation of unregulatedcontents, such as the ones that promote eating disorders, also known on the Web as‘pro-ana’ and ‘pro-mia’ informative material, topics we will address below.2 American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000; Brumberg, 2000; Simpson, 2002; Rosen, 2003; vanHoeken, Seidell & Hoek, 2005; Bordo, 1999; Soban, 2006; McClelland & Crisp, 2001; Kally &Cumella,2008; cited in Williams, 2009.3 Hill, Draper, Stack, 1994; Borzekowski & Bayer, 2005; Brau, Sunday, Huang, et al., 1999; Field,Carmargo,Taylor, et al. 2001; cited in Derenne & Beresin, 2006.170
  3. 3. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web Firstly, it is important to clarify that there is a clear distinction between Ana (short foranorexia) and anorexia (Giles, 2006). Ana is a lifestyle choice (Bardone-Cone &Cass, 2007; Brotsky & Giles, 2007; Davies & Lipsey, 2003; Giles, 2006; Mulveen &Hepworth, 2006 ), grounded on anorexic behaviours (Williams, 2009) that result in “aneffective way to diet” (Overbeke, 2008, p. 56) and lose weight. Anorexia, on the otherhand, refers to a medical condition (Giles, 2006) diagnosed as a mental illness (APA,1994). Secondly, according to Fox, Ward & ORourke (2005) pro-anorexia is a socialmovement that finds expression in the Internet through online Web sites, and itspurpose is to honour an anorexic lifestyle as a mean to achieve extremely thin bodies.And this is the reason why ‘pro-anorexia’ is not listed as a disease (Bardone-Cone &Cass, 2007; Whitehead, 2010), because being ‘pro-ana’ is a choice that people controland not a disease that controls them. Thirdly, the main audience of these Web pro-anorexia promoting contents are i) EDsufferers who use these spaces to get acquainted with those who understand theirsuffering; and ii) ‘wanarexics’, “persons with disordered eating attitudes, but notclinically diagnosable as Eating Disorder (ED) sufferers” (Casili, Tubaro, & Araya,2012, para.1) “who use the[se] sites as an extreme way of dieting, rather than becauseof any eating disorder psychopathology” (Mulveen & Hepworth, 2006; Uca, 2004, citedin Williams, 2009)4, and as a way to cope with problems that are difficult to face (Fox etal., 2005). Thus, the ‘pro-ana’ movement is a good example of a social phenomenon that wasborn with the Internet age (Giles, 2006). And, despite the efforts to censor and removethem, these websites became popular because they offer specific information, enablecommunication without geographical constraints, and provide a safe sense ofcommunity and belonging. As most of the pro-anorexic individuals feel the lack ofoffline support from health professionals, family or friends, these virtual communitiesseem to gain importance in their lives, representing for them a safe harbour where nolonger they feel the need to hide and where they feel understood and supported.Acting as a sanctuary (Dias, 2003; Giles, 2006; Ward, 2007; Williams, 2009), thesevirtual communities represent a neutral and free judgemental space (Brotsky & Giles,4 For further reading: Mulveen, R. & Hepworth, J. (2006). An interpretative phenomenological analysis ofparticipation in a pro-anorexia Internet site and its relationship with disordered eating. Journal of HealthPsychology, 11(2), 283-296. Uca, E. R. (2004). Ana’s girls: The essential guide to the undergroundcommunity online. Authorhouse: USA. 171
  4. 4. T.S. Castro, A.Osório2007; Dias, 2003; Williams, 2009), a safe environment where users can express theirfeelings (Wold et al., 2009) thoughts and, even, socially unacceptable behaviours(Williams, 2009). To understand the success of these communities in the Web we also have to takeinto account that adolescence is a phase of physical, psychological and personalitycomplex changes, during which some life experiences can cause anxiety and evenlack of confidence or self-esteem. And when it comes to issues related to standards ofbeauty and body image fitting in is, without question, an important concern for children.According to Tiggemann, Gardner and Slater “the majority of adolescent girls wish tobe thinner” (2000, p. 645), and possibly driven by weight goals, two thirds ofadolescent girls search online for information about how to loose weight and eatingdisorders. Regarding this, evidence suggests that of these, 13% engage in bingeeating and purging behaviours (Wilson, Peebles, Hardy, & Litt, 2006) and “manyengage in dieting and other weight loss behaviours” (Tiggemann et al., 2000, p. 645). To sum up, there is enough evidence to trigger our concern about pro-anorexia as aharmful movement (Overbeke, 2008), and also a growing example of a social Webphenomenon unlikely to disappear (Bardone-Cone & Cass, 2007). Moreover, literaturepoints out that “[a]s youth become progressively “Web-savvy,” adolescent-developedWeb sites that promote anorexia and bulimia are increasingly prevalent” (Wilson,2006, p.6) and that these websites “provide high-levels of social support for an anti-medical explanatory model that would decrease recovery rates and potentially lead tothe death or injury of its participants” (Bell, 2007, p. 449). Therefore, taking into consideration that i) pro-anorexia Weblogs are easily andpublicly available to children on the internet; ii) these blogs not only promote pro-anorexia but also disclose risky and dangerous information about self-inflictedaggressive practices; iii) according to findings from EU KIDS ONLINE project, childrencan take an active role in the search, production and dissemination of harmfulcontents; iv) the reception of undesirable content is a major concern for parents(Ponte, Jorge, Simões, & Cardoso, 2012); in the course of our doctoral research, theneed for an in depth study of these contents arises once they provide easy access topotentially harmful and risky information. The present work is part of a doctoral investigation on the disturbing and emergingphenomenon of online violence5 perpetrated by, with and among children in online5 Online violence is a new and worrying phenomenon that has impacts in the wellbeing of children andtheir families. Clarifying, in the framework of our research by "online violence" we mean the use of digitaldevices or Internet to actively engage in physical, verbal, psychological or emotional aggression, that being172
  5. 5. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webenvironments. The interconnected digital environments, used by children to expresstheir inner selves, search for information, mingle, quarrel, hangout and meet old andnew friends, has complex venues and challenging characteristics that concern society,parents, educators and scientists. In order to categorise the risks associated to the useof ICT, the research project EU Kids Online considers that children are encounteringonline risks regarding to i) content, ii) contact and iii) conduct. Therefore, the aim of ourresearch is to study online episodes of violence arising from these three types of risksconnected to the misuse of digital technologies (mobile or not) and the Internet, wherechildren can have a passive or an active role (or both). The need to conduct this exploratory study arose during the review of literature aboutpro-ana risky contents easy accessible on the Internet. Thereby, this work is the resultof the first part of an exploratory investigation that aims to deepen and study cases ofdeliberate and sustained violence that endanger the well-being of children, such is thecase of pro-anorexia Weblogs while they can be seriously damaging for children whoread and/or write those contents, and their families, friends as well as young users itmay influence in the future. The aim of this paper is to analyse Portuguese written pro-anorexia blogs andsystematize and categorize their characteristics, content and messages in order tobetter understand the dynamics of these virtual spaces and why they are so popularamong children. To this end, firstly we made an explanation of the purpose andimportance of this study and how it fits into the overall theme of our doctoral research.Secondly, we make a brief description of the methodological and ethical choices of thisexploratory work. Finally, in order to get an in-depth understanding of the experienceof the individuals (Eysenbach & Wyatt, 2002) we present a descriptive and interpretiveanalysis, followed by the discussion and interpretation of the data collected from theempirical corpus.2. Method For several months we have analysed and studied eleven6 Portuguese speakingblogs (5 from Portugal, and 6 from Brazil) written by teenagers (9 girls and 2 boys),between 13 and 19 years old. Individuals in our sample use the Weblogs as a spacerepeated can lead to serious physical or psychological self-harm or deliberately and intentionally causeharm to another human being.6 To date two (of the eleven) weblogs have been removed. 173
  6. 6. T.S. Castro, A.Osóriowhere they i) feel safe to write about their physical insecurities, dreams and goals; ii)meet like-minded peers, and develop real close virtual friendships; iii) search forsupport and encouragement for maintaining an unhealthy and deadly lifestyle in orderto achieve the ‘pro-ana’ perfection. In the beginning of this study, during the literature review process, we made arandom research on Google using words like “thinspiration”, “pro-ana”, “ana prayer”,and “thin is beautiful”. The number of results obtained for each keyword was incrediblyastonishing. Exploring the results of Google searches, one particular blog caught our attention. Itwas a public blog written by a Portuguese speaking adolescent boy whose posts andcomments we read attentively. Then, we followed the digital track of his followers, andfollowers of followers. During this process, more blogs were selected and studied. Oursample became a small network of eleven interconnected blogs (see Figure 1 below).During our research we established some criteria to select the blogs we intended toanalyse: i) be a Portuguese written blog; ii) fit in a youth target age group; iii) the blogmust be active; iv) have enough and significant content to analyse; v) being publiclyavailable (without the need for subscription or a registration to access the information). Figure 1. Our blogs network sample (B1 = Blog1 to B11= Blog11).174
  7. 7. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web For each blog we made notes and collected data using print screens, that we thengathered into eleven numbered and encrypted folders7. In order to test and deepentheory and gain a better understanding of the pro-anorexic in Portuguese writtencontext, in this exploratory study we used a qualitative content approach to analyse themessages written in the Weblogs. Because at first we were not aware of what we were going to find in the field, duringthis exploratory empirical research, we felt the need to safeguard some ethicaldecisions, which we will explain next. We agree with Eysenbach & Wyatt (2002) that the Internet is a valuable repository forsocial scientists without the experimental constraints of the traditional research,because it offers to the researcher new possibilities and the resources to study groupsdifficult to access (Brownlow & ODell, 2002), as is the case of the pro-anorexiacommunities. Interestingly, children and adolescents perceive the concepts "public"and “private” differently from adults. From Stern’s experience, “teens think of theircommunication as "private," when the people they know in real life (e.g., parents,friends, teachers, etc.) do not see, hear or read it, regardless of who else does” (2004,p. 4). But because this is not a peaceful, or linear distinction, we had to make somedecisions. Our first concern was to know the extent to which the data, despite being publicavailable, was public or private. Brownlow and ODell (2002), argue that privacydoesn’t present itself an ethical problem if i) the data collection job is limited tocollecting and analysing the contents of day-to-day conversation; and ii) the researcherplays the role of a silent member and does not request additional information for theinvestigation. We’ve found several researchers who did observed and analysed pro-ana Web communities without requesting informed consent to gather and analyse thepublicly available data (e.g. Dias, 2003; Giles, 2006; Laksmana, 2002; Lyons, Mehl, &Pennebaker, 2006; Walstrom, 2000). Adding to this, we also had to keep in mind thatpro-ana and pro-mia blogs work, so to speak, in a marginal path. And the bloggers tryto prevent being recognized in the Web by their parents, siblings, other relatives,friends or classmates, so they disguise their identity, using a nickname8. Therefore,unless our goal was to dismantle the community that arose around the blogs, we didnot ask for parental consent, or the bloggers consent. First, because, in our defence,7 For several reasons, sometimes these blogs are shut down, and it was important for us to gather the dataso we could analyse carefully the content and information of each blog.8 Despite these precautions, from time to time, they became more careless and revealed information thatcould disclose their identity, like names, personal contacts and pictures. 175
  8. 8. T.S. Castro, A.Osóriothe interest in becoming familiar with the phenomenon is purely scientific; the requestwould be made via the Internet and could lead to undesired noise in thecommunication; our intentions could be misinterpreted; ultimately, this could influencethe activity of the blog; the patterns of communication between the bloggers, andconsequently compromise the results. Regarding this, only public blogs were studied. Considering i) that the Internet hides traps that can easily violate the privacy ofindividuals (Eysenbach & Till, 2001); ii) the particularities and vulnerabilities of thetarget group of our analysis; iii) the sensitivity of the issues addressed; iv) that ourmajor concern are the individuals, we made some decisions to protect the safety of thebloggers. For this purpose i) bloggers real identity and nicknames we’ll be kept insecrecy; ii) the URL addresses will remain undisclosed; iii) we won’t disclose names(or nicknames), personal photographs, personal information or other material capableof identifying these individuals using a research engine; iv) we will avoid a completeverbatim transcript of opinions or excerpts that can be easily found in a search engine;v) a code has been assigned for each blog (from B1 to B11). Moreover, according to Eysenbach & Till (2001), there is evidence that more carelessresearchers may be perceived as intruders and consequently damage communities. Inthe observed blogs, we read some public messages left by scientists interested instudying these blogs. None of the bloggers answered or commented those requests(at least, publicly). This supported our choice for using a passive observation with nointervention or interaction with the users. This technique gave an important andreliable perspective to our research, and allowed us to i) access the authentic andspontaneous environment of the blogs (without planning or programming); ii) becomeacquainted with the pro-ana individual reality; iii) its terminology; and iv) day-to-day liferoutines and moods of a person with ED behaviours. From the researcher’s point of view it is important to add that, because these arehighly psychologically and emotionally complex environments, from time to time, theneed arose to interspace the observation task with other tasks in order to ensure anopen and detached research.176
  9. 9. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web3. Results 3.1 Common features and contents found in the Portuguese written Weblogs Supporting the literature, our provisional findings suggest that there are commontopics in all weblogs. In this exploratory research we’ve found shared features andcontents such as i) information about anorexia, diets, physical exercises, need foranorexia, cutting and drug information, medical experiences with doctors andtreatments; ii) support, solidarity and warning comments; iii) statements expressingfeelings of frustration, depression, conflict with parents, suicide thoughts, cutting anddrug information; iv) thinspiration material (e.g. quotes, music, videos and photographsof extraordinarily thin women/men, particularly models and celebrities9 [some of themsuffer from ED or died from it], TV miniseries and shows10) that work as a stimulus forstarving and weight loss; v) tips to lose weight and throw up; tricks to hide the loss ofweight from family; ways to deceive parents and friends from controlling what/whenthey eat; vi) personal information11 (despite efforts to protect their real identity); vii)more rarely, a notice or disclaimer before entering the website; viii) commitment tofollow harsh diets together (‘No Food Collective’; ‘challenges’12); ix) reporting feelingtheir parents control when using the Internet; x) widgets (hit counter, body mass index- BMI, ideal weight and fat percentage calculators, poll questions); xi) ‘stamps’ (virtualgifts – jpeg or gif – exchanged inside the community used as a sign of friendship andsupport; xii) ‘pro-ana’ terminology used to reinforce the sense of community. Table 1 shows some of the features and contents that we’ve found in those blogs.For each blog we have assigned a code (B1 to B11). The blue shaded columnsrepresent the boys, and the pink columns represent the girls.9 Such as the twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Kate Moss, Keira Knightley, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan,Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girl), Miranda Kerr, Taylor Swift, Amy Winehouse (✝), Nicole Richie or ParisHilton, Jeremy Gillitzer(✝), Avril Lavigne, Nina (character from Black Swan).10 Such as ‘Skins’, ‘America’s Next Top Model’, ‘Gossip Girl’.11 During our research, of the eleven blogs studied, only two teenagers did not publish personalphotographs. Nine users published personal photographs on their blogs. Seven published photographs offace and body (from these seven, two sometimes remove the photos after a while being published, andone always removes them afterwards). Two of them only publish body pictures. The photographs arepublished i) as evidence of weight lost; ii) to obtain peer approval; iii) as inspiration for other ‘pro-anas’.12 The ‘challenge’ is a competition organized by a blogger who establishes the rules for those who whish tofollow a harsh programmed diet for a period of time (a few days to a few weeks). These challenges areadvertised in the blogs and are very popular in these communities. Some new bloggers use thesechallenges to make friends or to gain followers. Who wants to participate is obliged to comply with rulesthat dictate the diet for that challenge. The winner is the participant who has reached (or closest to) theweight value set on his/her goal. Who does not comply with the rules is disqualified. Frequently, thechallenges come before an important date or a festive season such as Christmas, holidays or birthdays. 177
  10. 10. T.S. Castro, A.Osório Examples of contents found in the Portuguese written Weblogs B1 B2 B3 B4 B5 B6 B7 B8 B9 B10 B11 Thinspiration (quotes) ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Thinspiration (video/audio) ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Thinspiration (pictures) ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Sharing Tips and Tricks ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Participation in Challenges ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Diet sharing ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Practice of NFC *No food collective ● ● ● ● ● Changed the blog URL ● ● ● Report feeling parental control in Internet use ● ● ● Write about Cutting/punishment practices ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Table 1. A sample of contents found in the Portuguese written blogs The data in Table 1 shows that diets, thinspiration material, information about cuttingand self-punishments are common contents in almost every blogs. Eight bloggershave already participated in, at least, one challenge. Least common is the practice of‘no food collective’ (engage in fasting practices with other blogger). Only threebloggers mentioned feeling that their parents control their use of the Internet, and threechanged the blog URL. Interestingly, two of the three who claim feeling parentalcontrol on the Web, have changed the blog URL, probably because their parents foundout about their blog activity. 3.2. Emotional moods expressed by anorectic bloggers in the Web and thesupport of their followers In these Weblogs we were able to read highly intimate, emotional and shockingposts. The testimonials express feelings of profound sadness, pain, loneliness, andeven sometimes death wish. Some translated excerpts in Table 2 below, help us toillustrate emotional moods we frequently found in their discourses. The column in the centre contains the transcription. For each phrase we haveidentified the feelings associated (column on the left), and the column on the rightidentifies the blog from which we took the example.Emotional Examples (our translation) BlogmoodsFragility “I am weak. I cannot stand this... I want to B9Conflict disappear... Nobody understands my pain…”178
  11. 11. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webMisunderstandingSufferingLonelinessConflict “I know Im killing myself but remaining fat is B3Suffering worse than dying”Death wishConflict “I feel disgusted with myself” B9SufferingConflict “(…) my mother is keeping a close eye on me” B9Friendship “Here I have friends in whom I can trust, and B2Trust learn who help me a lot”BelongingSupportFriendship “You are very important to me (...) understood B9Understanding me when nobody did (...) gave me strength (...)Support when I could not stop crying (...)”Cutting “I feel like cutting again (...) When I think of the B9Relief relief that a cut provides…”Cutting “I cut myself yesterday for being overeating (...)” B1Punishment Table 2. Examples of emotional moods found in the Portuguese written blogs This exercise enabled us to find interesting relations between their emotional moodsand the topics they write about: they express negative moods about their self-imageand positive moods when referring to the pro-ana friends and community. They seemto express more ambivalent feelings when they write about cutting practices. In the testimonials above, youngsters expose their weaknesses and seek theemotional support, advices, and empathy of their followers. To those posts the faithfulreaders respond with supportive, solidarity, friendship and encouragement messages. Examples of support, solidarity, friendship and encouragement messages from thefollowers (our translation): “Gorgeous, don’t be sad…” “All the best to you (…)” “Do not be discouraged friend” “Glad youre back” “I’m following you” 179
  12. 12. T.S. Castro, A.Osório 3.3. Cutting, Self-punishment practices and death wish Issues like cutting, self-punishment or death are common and sometimes get anobsessive tone in these blogs. Cutting is a dangerous and hurting practice that seemsto give them calm (see Table 2). Self-punishment works as a sanction when they fail tomeet the desired goals or fall into temptation eating more than they allow themselvesto eat. Throughout the readings, we get the impression that these young people havea religious fundamentalist relation with starvation and death, in which death is alwaysdescribed as better than failing or not achieving their goals. Aware of the dangers thattheir life choices entail, they face them (death in particular) as a necessary evil. Therefore, about self-harm, suicide attempt or punishments in the blogs we can find i)information about cutting, how to hide it (e.g. sweaters with long sleeves, bracelets),less visible places of the body to cut (e.g. belly, legs, wrists, ankles), how many timesthey cut themselves; ii) photographs that prove the cuts; iii) suicidal thoughts and/orepisodes of attempted suicide (e.g. using pills). During our observation, none of these episodes ended tragically13, but self-harm is aregular practice in nine of the eleven weblogs. In eleven blogs, six describe suicideattempts and two reveal their thoughts about death wish. To posts related to theseissues, the followers show empathy with the blogger and concern with his/her life orhealth status, but they also give advice and admonitions in these self-mutilation issues. Examples of advice and admonition messages from the followers (our translation): “Please do not cut ...” “Think of the friends who support you” “Me and I. (name) we had no choice but you have! (...)” 3.4 Living with pro-ana, an ambivalent relationship Maintaining the pro-ana lifestyle is a physical, psychological and emotional fightagainst ambivalent feelings that haunt them. ‘Ana’ represents the friend, the enemy,sometimes both. A fight they must undertake if they want their lives to change (theydon’t explain what this ‘change’ really means) despite how it can dangerously affecttheir well-being. Examples of ambivalent feelings concerning to ‘Ana’ (our translation): "I want to be friends with Ana and Mia. They may be the friends that can change mylife (...) "(B9)13In fact, there was one tragic episode that some bloggers wrote about, but after few days they found outthat it was a prank. We were unable to ascertain the reasons, but some wrote about it. They seemed quitesure that it was a prank from someone who illegally entered the community pretending to be anorexic.180
  13. 13. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the web "I know that Ana is not a toy (...) I only use to achieve a goal (...) Ana is more than aperson is part of me" (B2) [About Ana] "A friend, perhaps enemy. I do not know exactly (...) I cannot livewithout her. "(B2)4. Provisional Findings Ana and Mia are like pet names (Gradim, 2009) used as short names for anorexiaand bulimia. This personification gives identity and subjectivity to the ED (Ward,2007). Ana and Mia personify two ‘frienemies’14, friends and enemies alternately orsimultaneously (Williams, 2009). Ana symbolizes the power, control and perfection,the beauty and a wisdom ideal (Williams, 2009). After the binging, ‘Mia’ is the one thathelps the body purifying by throwing up the excesses and putting them back on thepath of ‘Ana’. This is an ambivalent, complex and risky relationship reinforced by aninner voice that constantly reminds individuals of their weaknesses and inability toprosecute the high and impossible standards of ‘Ana’ (Ward, 2007). And as more theindividuals try to control what they eat and weigh, the more they feel the lack ofcontrol. But according to the ‘pro-ana’ followers, overcoming these fights and physicaland emotional pains prove their commitment to ‘Ana’. On the other hand, the lack of social support in the offline environment may explainwhy they pursue for support on the Web and why they publish these highly emotionaland shocking posts about their daily lives and their obsession with ‘Ana’. Also we have to consider that peer, social and media pressures play an importantrole during adolescence. These influences are represented in the music they hear, theslang they use to communicate, clothes they wear, their hairstyles, or even engagingin risky behaviours. We believe that this kind of pressure have extraordinary influencein children ["this is the law of our society" (B1)] and may trigger risky eating behavioursof this nature. For many adolescents dealing with internal or external conflicts,anorexia and bulimia may be the way to take control of their life. And, although, awarethat anorexia "can kill" (B1), they do not hesitate to embrace "the risks and everything"(B2) that involves this lifestyle in favour of a "new beginning" (B9).14 “A "toxic" person who poses as a friend but subconsciously or consciously wishes you harm.”(http://www.urbandictionary.com/) 181
  14. 14. T.S. Castro, A.Osório Going through the blogs, some incidents can point us possible causes that may havetriggered these behaviours, such as, i) bullying, ii) the nobody likes me feeling, iii) thedesire of being a fashion model, iv) obsessive-compulsive disorder (diagnosed in onecase), v) depression, vi) social pressures with weight, vii) not accepting the bodygrowth turning into an adult body. Juarascio et al. (2010) explain that individuals suffering from ED have more difficultyin the establishment of social ties, because they avoid social mingling especially if foodis involved, and normally they suffer from depression, emotional confusion, anxiety,obsessions, shyness, lack of social support in the offline world. This may explain whythey search for support in the Web and why they find it a safe environment where theycan act natural and express themselves. We have noticed that most often the ED actsmore as an excuse to address discussions about control, strength, perfection(Overbeke, 2008) or lack of it, but also problems with parents, siblings,boyfriends/girlfriends, friends and school. They express feelings of misunderstanding,frustration, depression, loneliness, insecurity, and the ambivalence they feel regardingto anorexia lifestyle and the reasons may have triggered this kind of behaviour. And tothese shocking testimonies of deep sadness, pain, loneliness, and in some cases thewill to die, the followers respond with messages of acceptance, support, solidarity,friendship and encouragement. But if, at first, these online communities seem to fulfil acertain affective and social misfit that exists in vulnerable young people, giving themthe emotional support and a sense of security, intimacy and understanding that helpsthem dealing with those external pressures, in the course of time they contribute formaintaining unhealthy habits that make them feel more and more depressed and sick. As their posts become more disturbed, more frequently they write about issues likecutting or death. These are clearly desperate pleas for help that reflect unbearableemotional pains. Cutting usually is described as a practice that provides them with asense of relief and calmness. The other bloggers understand why they cut, becausemost of the times they do (or did) it as well, but they don’t express support for thoseactions. The cuts are made in easily hidden parts of the body (with clothing orbracelets), such as the legs, stomach, ankles and wrists. One of these individuals usesdeprivation (of things that one loves) with the same goals, when frustrated or feelingdepressed. Two individuals also use intensively working out despite the physical painor abstaining of things, like for example watching television, as self-punishment. In this exploratory study although data can not be generalized, evidence suggeststhat these blogs can play an undesired negative role in: i) the proliferation of easy182
  15. 15. Online violence: not beautiful enough… not thin enough; anorectic testimonials in the webavailable risky contents - “I started researching on the internet about diets and found ablog pro ana and mia (...) after that I created the blog and entered this world" (B9); ii)encouraging to fast or food disruptive behaviours - "(...) holiday means that I’ll havemore time to search the internet and make my [diet] plans "(B9);", iii) the maintenanceof a already existing disorder - "I will delete the blog, is making me ill" (B8), iv)promoting alienation from offline social ties - "this is my little world (...) is all Ihave."(B2); v) consequently extending the community to new members – “I’m writingthis blog to know more people like me!" (B3). According to Giedd (2012), “the three most robust adolescent behavioural changesare (1) increased risk taking, (2) increased sensation seeking, and (3) a move awayfrom parent toward greater peer affiliation” (2012, p. 101). Pondering this, it isimportant to add that parents and teachers have an important role throughout thisstage in youth development in order to contribute with a safer psychological and socialenvironment that can help preventing risky behaviours (Reina, Oliva, & Parra, 2010).Despite that, it doesn’t mean that out of curiosity or the feeling of being in control(Garitaonandia & Garmendia, 2007), children won’t enrol in dangerous or unsafebehaviours on the Internet. The Internet is like a Pandoras box that once openedprovides a universe of risks (but also of great opportunities). In this case, we considerthat pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia blogs disseminate risky contents where children caneasily find manuals that encourage food restriction, tricks to fool parents andcaregivers, scary "diets" and pharmacological prescriptions (Gradim, 2009) that mayinfluence and endanger children’s emotional and physical welfare in unpredictableways. 4.1. Applications This exploratory study has contributed to the literature pertaining pro-anorexicPortuguese written risky contents. With this study we aim to encourage the family,school and community to reflect together in order to raise awareness to deal with theemerging expressions of this problem and its impact and to find the policies, guidelinesand strategies that can ensure proactive, assertive and balanced preventive attitudesin children. 4.2. Limitations and future developments Although this study deepens our knowledge about the pro-anorexia social Webmovement in Portuguese written blogs, we recognize its limitations. For instance, the 183
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